I grew up with Tom Petty - from the moment I discovered I loved rock-and-roll, he was there, feeding my need for music with lyrics I could relate to, and a band that delivered the tunes that had me swaying along with them. He’s from Gainesville, Florida, where I went to school; I’ve seen him live in concert; have listened to him almost my entire life. Yet, I picked up Warren Zanes’ biography, Petty, and learned I didn’t know much about him at all.
Zanes spent countless hours talking with Petty, interviewing past and present members of the Heartbreakers and Petty’s earlier band, Mudcrutch, and pouring over thousands of recordings to write this homage. Somewhat reclusive, Petty works to stay out of the public eye when not on stage. But Zanes is able to dig into Petty’s knotty emotional history - from his abusive relationship with his father, to his 22-year first marriage, drug use, and the heavy responsibilities of being a father and band leader.
We follow Tom Petty along his life and musical journey, which are really a single, intertwined quest for perfection. This quest often let him down (family, addiction, and depression), and sometimes lifted him up (musical success and respect); and along the way, we have a front row view into the arguments, disappointments, achievements, tours, and collaborations that make up his long career.
Zanes includes Petty’s father’s rocky upbringing, leading to their tumultuous relationship; of the music scene in Gainesville in a time of R&B, blues, and pop; and of hanging out as a teenager at the local guitar store, picking up band mates and gigs. We follow Petty to Los Angeles, and learn about record deals, his rocky marriage, band conflicts, and of being a master storyteller. We hear of Petty’s highs and lows, by his own account, friends (including Stevie Nicks), and the Heartbreakers themselves. Zanes brings to us the good and the bad - disgruntled former band members, Petty’s battle with depression and addiction, and finding solace in the music. We all know of Petty’s great collaborations - Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Jimmy Iovine, Rick Rubin, etc. - but along with that we learn how that music was made and where he and the Heartbreakers were in their evolution and mindset.
Petty, now in his mid-sixties, is considered an elder statesman of rock-and-roll. He is still making records and touring - both with the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch. I admire Petty’s dedication to his craft, his innate talent, and his musical instinct. This is an engaging biography that has given me a deeper connection to Petty’s work and for that alone, it was worth the read.
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Vickie’s rating: 3 stars